Preventing extremism in schools…implementing the strategy

by Stacey Dingwall

Last week, Ofsted published the results of its survey of how well further education and skills providers in England have implemented the government’s ‘Prevent’ duty in the year since it was put in place in the sector. The survey, based on visits to 37 providers and findings from 46 inspections or monitoring visits carried out between November 2015 and May 2016, focused on the following key tests outlined in the Prevent guidance issued on 18 September 2015:

  • Are providers ensuring that external speakers and events are appropriately risk assessed to safeguard learners?
  • Are the partnerships between different agencies effective in identifying and reducing the spread of extremist influences?
  • Are providers assessing the risks that their learners may face, and taking effective action to reduce these risks?
  • Are learners being protected from inappropriate use of the internet and social media?
  • To what extent are staff training and pastoral welfare support contributing to learners’ safety?

What is the Prevent duty?

Updated in 2011 by then Home Secretary Theresa May, Prevent is part of the government’s overall counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST. Its key aim is to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism, and to work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation. This includes schools and other education and skills providers such as further education colleges. Schools are identified in the strategy as being particularly important in addressing risks, as they “can play a vital role in preparing young people to challenge extremism and the ideology of terrorism and effectively rebut those who are apologists for it”.

Events such as the murder of Lee Rigby and Birmingham’s ‘Trojan horse’ affair have led to further reviews of counter-terrorism work in schools. The 2013 report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism stated the intention to introduce even tougher standards from September 2014 to ensure that schools support “fundamental British values”. This was later clarified in official guidance to mean that although “pupils should understand that while different people may hold different views about what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, all people living in England are subject to its law”, however “pupils must be encouraged to regard people of all faiths, races and cultures with respect and tolerance”.

Has the strategy worked?

The results of Ofsted’s survey paint a mixed picture of successful implementation across further education and skills providers. While the agency judged that 22 of the 37 providers had implemented Prevent well (with general further education and sixth form colleges the most successful), it concluded that the sector needs to do more to ensure that all learners are protected from the risks of radicalisation and extremism. Highlighting particular concerns over information sharing between partners and the vetting of external speakers coming onto premises, Ofsted stated that, from September of this year, it would “raise further its expectations of providers to implement all aspects of the ‘Prevent’ duty, and evaluate the impact this has on keeping learners safe”.

Evaluation of the strategy’s success in schools is difficult, due to the government’s unwillingness to provide information on how it evaluates this. Anecdotal information from teachers and other key stakeholders, however, indicate the lack of support for its implementation in schools. Teaching unions have reported that their members feel “scared and under pressure” to implement the duty, which has resulted in a surge of the number of people referred to the police by the education sector. There have also been allegations of “inadequate” training provision for teachers, with complex extreme political beliefs reduced to simplistic descriptions involving stereotypes, and that the use of these stereotypes coupled with overreactions has actually led to the creation of more divisions within communities, rendering the strategy counter-productive.

Rejection by teachers

In March, delegates at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference voted overwhelmingly to reject the Prevent strategy, on the basis that it causes “suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staffroom”.  They also called on the government to “urgently conduct” an independent review of the strategy with their involvement, arguing that a failure to do so could result in a “hardening perceptions of an illiberal or Islamophobic approach, alienating those whose integration into British society is already fragile”.

At the time, the government responded to the vote with the statement that it made “no apology” for protecting children and young people from the risks of extremism through the strategy, and that it is “playing a key role in identifying children at risk of radicalisation and supporting schools to intervene.” Given that the architect of the refreshed strategy has now moved into Number 10, it seems unlikely that the government will alter their stance.

If you liked this blog, you may like our previous post on the local prevention of terrorism.

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One thought on “Preventing extremism in schools…implementing the strategy

  1. Pingback: BYOD: Bring Your Own Device policy considerations for schools | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

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